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Responsive Classroom Strategies

The Three R's of
Logical Consequences


Danny is the first one to get irate when a classmate denies that he was tagged during their recess game. But then, when Danny gets tagged, he refuses to freeze, ignoring the rules. Sore feelings result unless Danny gets his way. The next time the teacher notices this happen, she calls Danny over. "Take a break," she tells him.

"What did I do?" he cries.

"I want you to watch the game and tell me what you see happen when people are tagged. And tell me the rule."

Danny goes over to the fence and sinks to the ground, covering his face with his hands, refusing to watch. The teacher ignores him and continues to observe the game. After a while Danny picks up his head and starts to watch.

"Teacher, can I go back now," he calls.

"Not yet," she replies. "You need to do your research first."

"If you get tagged, you freeze," he reports quickly. "But I didn't"

"More research," the teacher says. "I don't see anyone else arguing. So, what are they doing?"

Eventually, Danny finds the words and shows he knows the correct behavior for the game.

"Tomorrow," the teacher tells him, "I want you to model for us the 'taggers' choice rule,' okay?" Then she adds, "When everyone follows the rules, what happens to the game?"

"It's more fair, "Danny admits.

"Yes. It's more fair." The teacher nods. In this way, Danny was held to the rules, was not allowed to intimidate others, and also remained engaged in the process. Logical consequences were implemented.


Children can be counted on to forget the rules. At times, they might even choose not to follow them when impulse and immediate gratification hold sway -- to take another run around the playground; to dawdle their way to a lesson; to pass a note; to make a rude gesture; or to use feet, not words, to settle a dispute. When a reminder fails to redirect behavior, teachers using a Responsive Classroom approach and implement logical consequences.

Logical consequences, as discussed in the last article, are ways in which adults structure learning opportunities for children when natural consequences pose too much harm. The goal is to help children recover their self-controls and, with guidance, make constructive choices -- choices that help preserve the integrity of the individual and of the community.

A logical consequence generally has two steps. The first step is to stop the misbehavior. The second step is to provide an action that recalls children to the rules, reinstates the limits, and teaches alternative behaviors.

'Logical consequences' is a strategy that seeks to help children learn from their mistakes. In my experience, children are more apt to learn from mistakes when adults implement consequences with respect and firmness. How we approach children when they mess-up matters. In the Responsive Classroom approach, we advocate using criteria we title, "the three R's."


Logical consequences are respectful, relevant, and realistic.

Respect is conveyed through words and nonverbal gestures.

  • Use a normal tone of voice. Avoid sarcasm.
  • Speak directly and quietly to the student. Whenever possible, avoid calling across a room or raising your voice.
  • Focus on the deed and not on the doer. Convey the message that it is the behavior you object to, not the student.
  • Be clear and firm and don't negotiate.

"You need to leave the circle now," gives a precise direction. "You were talking and jabbing your pencil, etc." gives too much information, and opens the teacher up to argument: "I was not! He was, too!"

A consequence needs to be logically related to the students' actions.

  • It helps children see a cause and effect. (For example, when you talk, your work doesn't get done.)
  • It references the rules. ("What do our rules say about name-calling?")
  • It focuses on the specific problems created when rules are broken. ("When you tell me you're going to the bathroom and instead you fool around in the hall, what happens to our trust?")
  • It focuses on individual responsibility and accountability for helping preserve a safe learning community. (A student ignores the signal for quiet and keeps on talking with a neighbor. The teacher points out that the signal is a way to make sure everyone can receive directions quickly. It keeps everyone safe. Thus this student needs to see that his or her behavior is not responsible. The teacher implements a short time-out period for the student to recover controls and observe the limits. Later, the teacher perhaps will arrange a practice time so the student can return to the group and show by hid or her actions the "signal" procedures.)

A consequence should be something the teacher and student can follow through on.

  • There is a reasonable follow-through action expected by the student. (A student who is not looking where he or she is going spills paint all over the floor. The student will help clean it up, but is not expected to mop the entire class, the hall, and the lunchroom as well.)
  • There is a clear time frame that is appropriate to the developmental age of the student and the behaviors of the student. (A two-minute time out might or might not give a student time to recover controls. If the student returns to the group before he or she has truly regulated the behavior or while he or she is still pouting and angry, it is likely the misbehaviors will quickly resume.)
  • Time frame makes sense -- it is not too long and thus harsh, or too short and thus ineffective. (A student sent on an errand gets caught playing with the water fountain in the hall. The student loses the privileges of running errands for a few days or the rest of the week -- depending on the behavior, prior experience, and so on -- but not for a month or forever!) Remember, children need on-going opportunities to learn from their mistakes, develop their self-controls, and regain trust.
  • The teacher is prepared to follow-through and implement. (Told that homework that isn't handed in has to be made up after school or before school begins, teachers need to check the homework and reinforce expectations, as well as be realistic about their own time availability and parent communication. No empty threats!)

In sum, logical consequences applied with respect, relevancy, and realistic guidelines help children understand the consequences of their own choices and, hopefully, help them learn from their mistakes.


Additional Resources

* Charney, Ruth. Teaching Children to Care, Revised Edition. NEFC

* Brady, Fortin, Porter, Wood. Rules in School, NEFC

* Logical Consequences, Not Punishment



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